May 13, 2011 marked the maiden international flight of Solar Impulse, a plane with the wing-span of an Air Bus A330 covered with 12,000 solar cells. The first flight was in April 2010 and there was a successful 26 hour flight just three months later, but all prior flights were confined to Switzerland. The flight from Geneva to Brussels proceeded at the speed of 70 kilometers (44 miles) per hour. The flight took thirteen hours instead of just over one for a traditionally fueled plane. Obviously, Solar Impulse isn’t yet a viable option for commercial craft. As I watched it, however, I felt as though I was witnessing an event as historically significant as the flight of the Wright brothers in 1903. As the company co-founder and pilot, André Borschberg said, the purpose is to show the potential for renewable energy. With oil at record prices, the opportunity for clean, free fuel is enticing. Developing free energy sure is costly, however. The project, started in 2003, has a budget of 90 million Euros.
Today’s expression, voler de ses propres aisles (vollay duh say propruh zell) means “to fly by one’s own wings” or to be autonomous. This is what Solar Impulse has achieved. My daughter is about to graduate from university, so this is an idea dear to my heart at the moment. May high they both fly and always land safely.